For all it’s been a successful first season at the helm for Micky Mellon; it’s one that leaves Dundee United with more questions than answers still.
Heading into yesterday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs, Mellon’s mantra of dealing with ‘the asks of the game’ was reiterated time and again.
Kevin Nisbet’s finish in the first half was sublime and, although it was clearly offside, Christian Doidge’s after the break was a wonderfully-flowing team move tucked away nicely by the Welshman.
United can have no complaints about Hibs setting up a May 22 Hampden showdown against St Mirren/St Johnstone despite their controversial second.
For there were chances for the Terrors, Ian Harkes’ two in the game’s infancy, and a whole host in the second half from Lawrence Shankland, Marc McNulty and Jamie Robson, none were taken.
That profligacy on the biggest stage was frustrating for Tannadice gaffer Mellon.
‘We’ll learn from the experience but we need to show better qualities’
“To get to this stage and lose is always going to be massively disappointing,” he said.
“Over the course of the game, I don’t think we showed enough personality or enough of the things we knew we’d need to be good at to try to get a positive result.
“We came on strong with about half an hour to go, there were little bits and bobs and the keeper’s made a few good saves.
“We’ll learn from the experience but we need to show better qualities, not just with the ball but without it, better mentality, so that when we get the opportunity to come here again we’re better.”
Of their moments at the national stadium, Robson’s second-half side-footed effort that creeped round the post was United’s best.
It was still more a tale of wastefulness rather than near-misses despite the distances involved.
Inches, centimetres and finger tips – the Terrors were close on a number of occasions but, again, were left without any answers for what Hibs were asking them.
Mellon continued: “I don’t want to be too hard on them. I’m very protective over them because they’ve done brilliant to get us here.
“If you’re going to get results in these big games they’ve got to go in and one or two others as well.
Away to prepare for getting my heartbroken all over again tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/8QtU0UgmOq
— Calum Woodger (@CalumWoodger) May 8, 2021
“Things have to go your way.
“We’ll learn from this, though, and we’ll speak about it. The next time they come they’ll be more experienced.
“We got in and among them. We had a right good go at it with about half an hour to go.
“We had some good moments but you have to show that clinical edge that Hibs were able to do in order to give yourself the chance of getting a result.”
United boss blasts whistlers for strutting about all afternoon
That Mellon had a word in the ear of whistler Bobby Madden and his officials after the game is likely.
The United boss wasn’t best pleased with Doidge’s goal, clearly a yard or two offside, being allowed to stand.
With the Terrors pushing for an equaliser that so nearly came you can understand his anger.
“You’ve got to get them right,” Mellon asserted.
“They strut about all afternoon, don’t take control of the time-wasting or the gamesmanship.
Christian Doidge doubles @HibernianFC 's lead, but it's a controversial one! 😱
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) May 8, 2021
“You expect that to be dealt with by the ref. He never did that all day but you’ve got to be careful what you say because you get yourself into trouble and I’m not prepared to do that.
“But at 1-0 you’re still very much in the game, you know you’re going to get into a time in the game when it becomes tense.
“If you can take the game into that tense place, you’ll get an opportunity to maybe get that equaliser that takes the game into a different stage.
“Listen, I have to be honest and say Hibs were worthy of going to the final but those wee moments have to go your way and you expect them to get dealt with better.”
What next for Dundee United with Micky Mellon’s future unclear and Shankland and Siegrist’s deals winding down?
Away from the minutiae of the 90 minutes, the bigger picture at Tannadice is the real head-scratcher.
That Mellon has achieved his remit at United is without question.
Before the season kicked off the talk from sporting director Tony Asghar and other tangerine figureheads was big.
The ambitions were high for a newly-promoted team: Top-six football, challenging for cups and European qualification.
With much the same squad that won the Championship last term, Mellon’s Terrors have came close on all three fronts, much to his delight.
🗣 "It's been a good run and given the fans some excitement but talking for all the boys we're disappointed we couldn't get into the final."
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) May 8, 2021
“Yeah, we are pleased with the job we’ve done,” he admitted.
“We keep telling everybody and they don’t get it, they don’t look at the squad deeply enough and there’s a lot of lazy journalism as well.
“There’s a lot of people saying Dundee United this and that but if you go through the group, they’re all from the Championship, they’ve played two or three seasons down there.
“They came into the Premiership to grow and build forward again and we knew they were good players.
“We want to keep it moving forward and we go away from this now a season better in terms of experience.
“Games like Saturday’s can only help us in moving the club forward.
“That’s what we’ll try to do.
“These boys have played a lot of Championship football and to come in and get to a major semi-final and so comfortably stay up is a massive step forward for us.”
All that said, will Mellon be at Tannadice next season? The 49-year-old was linked with the Doncaster job just last month, a position that still lies vacant.
That sort of interest comes with the territory if your team and manager are successful. That goes for players, too.
With key men like Shankland and No 1 Benjamin Siegrist left with just a year to run on their contracts, we’re all set for a seismic summer at Tannadice.
That Shanks and Siegrist will sign new deals is highly unlikely but keeping Mellon is far more achievable and, arguably, of greater importance.
Already in his short time at United he has started to steer the ship in the right direction of travel, answering a lot of the questions asked of him.
With a new season, however, comes new challenges and, for the Tangerines’ sake, you must hope Mellon’s stay on Tayside is not simply a sojourn.